Does the Order in Which You Interview Matter?

“Congratulations! You have been selected to be interviewed for the assistant principal position at the Happy Hollow Public Schools. This is Dr. Buggerband’s secretary. I’d like to schedule an appointment.”

 Of course, you are thrilled. Barely able to breathe, you reply, “Yes, I’d be delighted!”

The secretary says in an almost mechanical voice, “How about next Wednesday at 4:30 at the Middle School. I can email a confirmation that will include directions”. You immediately accept the appointment.

You think, “I’ve got to tell my spouse.” She/he is elated as well, but then asks, “How many people are being interviewed? With whom will you interview? How long will it last? Do you have to bring anything with you? Are you going first; are you last?” Feeling a little deflated, you answer, “I don’t know.”

Does the order in which you interview really matter? My answer is, yes. Admittedly, I don’t have any research to back up my theory. But I do have more than forty years’ experience of interviewing, being interviewed, and coaching candidates. Call it empirical data. My theory depends on how many people are being interviewed.

  • In a large field of candidates, anything more than six, you want to go last or get towards the rear of the line.
  • In a small field of candidates, between three and five, you want to go first or get towards the front of the line.
  • If they’re down to two or three, then the order is irrelevant.

What’s the logic? If you met 18 people for 10 to 20 minutes each, over a 3-hour period, who would you remember best? The screening committee is made up of real people. Despite their best efforts, they become fatigued and bored. So many candidates appear to be mediocre… unmemorable. The panelists are dying to see good candidates. Here comes number 17. Finally, there’s a really great candidate. At the end of the process, the panelists look back at the list of names, and cannot even remember most of the faces. However, they do remember the most recent ones who they just met.

Let’s jump to the Central Office interview. They’re seeing four semi-finalists. They can readily remember all four. The first candidate does a great job. This candidate’s performance becomes the “high water mark”; the front runner. The rest of the field has the challenge of measuring up. By the time they get to candidate 4, the good performance of number 1 often becomes legendary, exaggerated in their minds.

If my theory makes sense to you, then how will you know how many are in the field, how long the interviews will last, and who’s going to do the interviewing. And more importantly, how are you going to get that last spot or the first spot?

Dr. Buggerband’s secretary routinely sets up hundreds of interviews for a wide range of positions. In this case, her boss gives her a stack of 18 resumes and tasks her to set up interviews every fifteen minutes. That’s seven interviews on Tuesday and Wednesday, and four on Thursday.

This is how you can get the appointment and the information you want:

Secretary (S): “Hello. I’m calling from the Happy Hollow Public Schools. I’d like to schedule a screening interview for the assistant principal position for which you applied. How about next Wednesday at 3:30 at the Middle School?”

Candidate (C): “Wonderful. Gee, that’s a little tight. What other times are available?”

S: “Okay, I have Tuesday at 4:15 and 5:30, Wednesday at 3:45 and 5:30, and a couple of spots on Thursday.

So, what can we derive from this? It looks like three days of interviewing. It appears that each interview will be 15 minutes. I guess the last interview runs from 5:30 to 5:45 and gets the committee out before dinner time. And Thursday is the last day.

C: “What’s the latest time you have available on Thursday?

S: “I have 5:00 on Thursday.”

C: “Great, I’ll take it. Can you tell me with whom I’ll be meeting?”

S: “There are five people on the committee.  There will be some teachers and parents and the middle school principal.”

C: “Thanks so much. I’m really excited. Is there anything I need to bring with me?”

You have one of the last spots. The interviews run fifteen minutes. You know the size and composition of the screening committee. That’s how it’s done! And now you can answer all of your spouse’s questions.


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